A comprehensive review of the pharmacological potential of Crocus sativus and its bioactive apocarotenoids

Biomed Pharmacother. 2018 Feb;98:733-745. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.12.090. Epub 2018 Jan 4.


Crocus sativus is an herbaceous plant that belongs to family Iridaceae. It is commonly known as saffron and has been used for medicinal purposes since many centuries in India and other parts of the world. Saffron of commercial importance comprises of dried stigmas of the plant and is rich in flavonoids, vitamins, and carotenoids. Carotenoids represent the main components of saffron and their cleavage results in the formation of apocarotenoids such as crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal. Studies conducted during the past two decades have revealed the immense therapeutic potential of saffron. Most of the therapeutic properties are due to the presence of unique apocarotenoids having strong free radical scavenging activity. The mode of action of these apocarotenoids could be: modulatory effects on detoxifying enzymes involved in combating oxidative stress, decreasing telomerase activity, increased the proapoptotic effect, inhibition of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, and by a strong binding capacity of crocetin with tRNA. The present review focuses on the therapeutic role of saffron and its bio oxidative cleavage products and also highlights the possible molecular mechanism of action. The findings reported in this review describes the wide range of applications of saffron and attributes its free radical scavenging nature the main property which makes this spice a potent chemotherapeutic agent for the treatment of various diseases.

Keywords: Anticancer crocin; Antioxidant; C. sativus; Crocetin; Saffron; Safranal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology
  • Crocus / chemistry*
  • Cyclohexenes / pharmacology
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Glucosides / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Terpenes / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cyclohexenes
  • Flavonoids
  • Glucosides
  • Plant Extracts
  • Terpenes
  • Carotenoids
  • safranal
  • crocin
  • picrocrocin